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More Updates on the Jodi O’Brien, Marquette Dean search

May 13, 2010

At this point I think I’ve done more follow up research that the New York times. Granted I have to continue to give credit to to the MU-Warrior. He’s really on the ball with this.  For a more student-centric, equally well researched yet opposite (read: liberal) stance, the word warrior also has a lot to read.

I heard news yesterday that newly appointed Milwaukee Archbishop may have intervened. Also in that same video, the search committee spoke out about the Archdiocese’s influence on the committee. From the JS regarding the Archbishop:

Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki and the judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee separately raised red flags over Marquette’s hiring of a Seattle University professor as Arts and Sciences dean.

Listecki called Marquette President Father Robert A. Wild about the university’s offer to Jodi O’Brien after receiving calls from clergy and lay leaders, the archbishop’s spokeswoman said.

Also expressing concerns about O’Brien’s appointment was Father Paul Hartmann, the archdiocese’s judicial vicar. Hartmann sent a March 3 letter to the chair of the search committee that said the gender studies professor “pursues subject matter that seems destined to actually create dichotomies and cause tensions (if not contradictions) with Marquette’s Catholic mission and identity.”

At a listening session with about 400 students Tuesday evening, Wild said the university’s decision to rescind the offer to O’Brien was “not about donor or outside influence,” but he added that “there is a variety of input from outside the university” on the hiring of high-level positions.

Pressed about the role of Listecki, if any, in the decision, Wild said the archbishop “can speak for himself.”

Also Tuesday, Wild told students that the next dean of the College of Arts and Sciences will be hired internally. He spoke in response to a student’s question about how much the search for a dean has cost the university and whether that would be reflected in tuition costs.

“As you can guess, it’s not been my best five days as president,” said Wild. “The level of anger has been intense.”

Hartmann’s letter came just as search committee members were recommending two of the three finalists for the position to Wild and Provost John J. Pauly. Hartmann wrote that he hoped a new dean would successfully meld faith and reason and strengthen ties between Marquette and the church.

“My greatest fear, as a priest, alum, and as president of a high school which sends dozens of new students to (Marquette) each fall, is that the important decision to be made in this moment will instead dichotomize university from Church and reason from faith,” Hartmann wrote.

Hartmann, who did not provide the letter to the Journal Sentinel, said he wrote of his concerns about all three of the finalists, in part because they lacked backgrounds in theology or philosophy.

“I was speaking from the position that this is an opportunity that should not be missed.  . . .  An opportunity for Marquette to continue to pursue a strong and clear Catholic identity,” said Hartmann, president of Waukesha Catholic Memorial High School and a canon lawyer who teaches part time at Marquette’s law school.

O’Brien has (finally) commented on the issue herself releasing a statement saying:

“For the past 15 years, Jesuit values have been at the center of my evolution as a teacher and scholar at Seattle University, which treasures its Jesuit Catholic mission. Because Marquette is recognized as one of the nation’s top Jesuit universities, I was deeply honored earlier this year when I was offered the opportunity to help advance its Jesuit mission as Dean of Arts and Sciences. I said in my initial application letter that I believe Jesuit colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to provide an educational experience that fully prepares students for ethical leadership in our complex times. I believe in the Jesuit mission even more today as a result of the outpouring of support I’ve received from Marquette students and faculty. My hope is that members of the Marquette community will continue listening to each other, caring for one another, and striving for excellence consistent with the best Jesuit tradition.”

Former MU professor Christopher Wolfe. (one of the smartest men out there) had his op-ed published in the Journal Sentinel. It basically echoes the thoughts of many that wonder “How’d she make it through the hiring process”

Marquette University has moved quietly but consistently away from its distinctively Catholic roots during the past 30 years, so the events of last week are not surprising: They are simply a working out of long-term trends. But the problem is even deeper than it appears.

Marquette offered the position of dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to a lesbian sociologist from Seattle and then withdrew the offer. Besides articles explicitly advocating gay marriage, her writings included an article (“Changing the Subject”) on whether there are closets in cyberspace, which alternated turgid post-modernist prose with imaginative lesbian sex vignettes and dialogue, including gender-bending and domination.

The withdrawal of the job offer led to outrage among some of the university faculty. A call to arms went out, demanding that the faculty make it clear that they will not stand for this.

The question that should be asked is not why Marquette President Father Robert A. Wild backed off the hiring but how in heaven did the hiring ever occur in the first place? If trendy post-modernism is a qualification for being a dean, that would explain it, but why should it be? The premise of her writing on sexuality is that sex is “socially constructed” and cybersex is especially fluid, since people can try on many different sexual personae.

The problem with theories of social construction – which assume that there are no fixed “natures” of things that determine what they are – is that they are self-contradictory. If everything is socially constructed, then the theory of social construction is socially constructed – we have no reason to think it says anything about reality itself.

That is not a problem for social constructionists, who always put “reality” in quotation marks because they deny that there is such a thing. But for others, it is a serious problem. Why should we bother attending to social constructions at all? Their answer is simply that we can or cannot, depending on whether we feel like it. But there is no reason to do so or not do so.

And that is the nub of the problem: no reason. Many people (understandably) will be up in arms about the fact that Marquette even considered hiring someone whose fundamental personal and scholarly commitments are so completely at odds with Catholic doctrine. But an equally important question is why Marquette would consider hiring someone whose ideas are so ungrounded in reason.

It is a striking irony about the contemporary world that popes such as John Paul II (in his encyclical Faith and Reason) and Benedict XVI (in his famous Regensburg lecture) have expended so much effort trying to get modern man to have confidence in reason. Some media reports suggested that Benedict was criticizing Europe for not taking faith more seriously, but he was actually arguing that Europe’s problem is that it isn’t taking reason seriously.

Marquette’s action in withdrawing the offer comes far too late. Whether it hires as dean a person whose scholarship is informed by a morally disordered sexual inclination is minor, compared to the fact that the university has over the years built up a faculty that takes her fashionable scholarship seriously, that its search committee recommended her and that the president initially signed off on her appointment.

It’s not just the Jesuits who built up Marquette over decades, to foster the pursuit of truth in light of the Catholic faith, who are turning in their graves. Anyone who cares about the serious pursuit of truth at all should be shaking their heads.

MU-Warrior referenced it first but he’s right. O’Brien’s scholarship is pretty much the Brad Paisely song: So Much Cooler Online. But instead of cooler thing gayer.

By the way that video has Taylor Swift and Kelly Pickler. So that should brighten up your rainy Thursday.

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